Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Kalpa Imperial, by Angelica Gorodischer (Small Beer Press) | review by Stephen Theaker

Subtitled “the greatest empire that never was”, this book tells a series of stories about the long-lived empire of Kalpa – or so we presume, since that name only appears in the title. In the book it is just the Empire, and it has a north, and a less easily governed south, and it has lasted (or will last: some stories hint that this is a future empire) so long that emperors and even dynasties may be completely unknown to their successors. Some stories, like “The Old Incense Road”, about an elderly man leading traders across the desert, take place over a shortish span of time, but others are rather more expansive, like the remarkable “And the Streets Deserted”, which follows a city from its founding and shows its many different lives, as an imperial capital, as a home for artists, as a spa for the unwell. Each story brings a majesty to the lives great and small that it examines, and each is equally enjoyable. The rule in the Empire is much like that for the original run of Star Trek films, that emperors will, in general, alternate between the good and the bad, and the book shows us both. The wisdom and determination of the Great Empress Abderjhalda in “Portrait of the Empress” or the emperor who never leaves his bedroom in “The Two Hands” are an example of each. The book was originally published in two volumes in Argentina in 1983, and this translation by Ursula K. Le Guin, which seems, so far as one can tell without reading the original, to be impeccably done, is from 2003. It should appeal to anyone with a taste for the epic, and in particular readers who enjoyed Lucius Shepard’s The Dragon Griaule, with which it shares many similarities: of tone, structure, and indeed quality. *****

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